That first day of school….
There was no Ursula to share a joke with about how ridiculously pregnant we both looked and how that would affect our little one starting Pre-k. We had our seconds a week apart and our friendship was sealed thereafter.
There were no Rola, Emanuela and Dania to wait outside the school gates to chat and offer their friendship unreserved.
There was no Alexandra to grab my hand and cheerfully say: YOU.. yes YOU! You look like a fun mom who can totally fit in with us… in four years I basked in Alex’s cheerful smile relishing every incredible friendship I forged thereafter.
There was no Nathalie Bourrel to greet me as if I was an old friend returning from just-another-summer-holiday, despite the fact that I had only met her two days earlier in a picnic held for new comers.
There was no Isabelle to engulf us all with her warmth and positive energy as she stood at the top of the stairs greeting all new and returning families. The way those kids ran straight into her hug was my first indicator that my kids would be so well taken care of in this little establishment.
There were no Katie, Nathalie Lambert, Nathalie Lonak, Kika and Melanie to set me off on an incredibly crazy adventure.. I still remember that first outing I joined. A biking trip to the city!!! I was too shy to admit to my mediocre biking abilities, especially on someone else’s bike and navigating very sharp bends and crazy slopes. That didn’t stop me from going… or screaming all the way down to the station either J. It sure didn’t stop them from letting me in.
There were no Anna and Jeanna to organize a small weekly get together for all moms with babies and toddlers. My T3 was only 1 at the time. That weekly coffee was my salvation and the seed of a friendship with Estelle who pushed me to conquer my first 5 k run five years later as a last New York adventure before I set off to ZA.
There was no Ranya to offer to come pick us up so we don’t have to venture into that new world alone on the first day of school.
There was no Noha to turn her schedule upside down to accompany me to the Lycée in Maadi and just BE THERE in case I needed anything. She never asked questions, never pretended to assuage my worries for she knew that with a terminally sick father, three kids in a new and temporary environment, there wasn’t much to say.
There were no ready smiles, extended hands or even the small gesture that recognizes that you are new and very welcome here. There was no animosity either! And the few I went and talked to were quite nice. They did offer their advice and smile readily enough after a few exchanges, but not their ready friendship!
It’s South Africa, I remind myself. Things take time to evolve and materialize here. Preschool is hardly comparison material with middle school, 4th grade and a first grader who still can’t fathom what hit her and brought her to this new world.
In New York with Ursula, we were young, a very small group and well, both pregnant and our boys were cute together. In Jordan, our kids were still babies and we were all non-French. This immediately set us apart for some reason and accelerated the process. Back to New York and Lyceum Kennedy was quite a unique place: Small, homey, very international and no one had the intention to mix with only their kind. Celebrating our diversity was key to the school and it permeated everything we did. We all belonged and we all added spice to the mix.
In Cairo, well, it’s my hometown after all and I have the leverage of pre existing friendships that happen to frequent the same school.
ZA impressions are different. While LK had less than 40 kids last year when we left, Lycée JV here boasts over 1000 + students. The spoken language for the past few days has been decisively French. This makes it impossible to feel the international inclusiveness that I was hoping to tap on. I’m sure it’s there. But I’ll need time and social skill to fish it out.
In all three countries friendships were established before the first day of school. Some with parents of fellow Lycéens, others with people from all walks. Not in ZA! The only person I met so far, through Walid’s work, is a very sweet Chilean mom who unfortunately doesn’t drive. So until I master this skill in my new post, hers would be a friendship patiently waiting to be cultivated.
It will come I remind myself. Hopefully a little faster that the national ADSL internet connection that promises to remain an elusive dream for a few weeks at least.